I don’t like the word clutch. Whether or not an athlete performs in the clutch is a difficult thing to ascertain concretely, yet most people throw the word around like it is tangible.
Jeter is clutch, A-Rod is not clutch. The grass is green, the sky is blue. Sometimes grass can be yellow, sometimes the sky is gray, sometimes Jeter hits into a game ending double play, sometimes A-Rod hits a walkoff homer.
But all that doesn’t change that Jeter IS clutch while A-Rod is not. Of course this is all a classic language game where the word itself has now taken precedent over the actions which the word supposedly describes. The doer has become more important than the deed, when in truth it’s the other way around. The big hit is what is clutch. The big strikeout is what is not clutch.
Alas, I fear we shall always use words like clutch though to describe players, even if it is often unfounded one way or the other, because we emblazon a few distinct moments in our mind and then forever associate them with that player.
What does all this have to do with the current Yankees? Well, they don’t seem to be very “clutch.” As in, they don’t often provide clutch hits or make comebacks late in the game. Once they’re behind… well it’s over.
That got me to thinking about great Yankee comeback teams. The first that comes to mind? The 2004 New York Yankees. Due to a couple of big moments, those Yankees will always be remembered as a bunch of “unclutch chokers,” but that’s not really the case. The ’04 Yankees still hold the record for most comeback wins in a season.
Do you remember the game against David Wells and the Padres where the Yanks hit 2 homeruns off of Hoffman to tie it in the 9th, only to have Hitchcock give up 3 runs in extras? And then they came back and scored 4 in the bottom to win it on a Ruben Sierra sac fly? Well I do. There were countless games like that that season.
Those Yanks were all about the rally (and you could argue that they would have been better served being the team trying to come back from a deficit in the ALCS, but that’s neither here nor there).
What made that team so good at the comeback? It may just have been a fluke and perhaps that means the current Yankees will get better.
But right now, they seem lethargic. Their formula for winning is simple: get a good starting performance and enough offense to hand it over to the bullpen with a lead. The way things look now though, relying on that all year will keep this team around .500. They need comeback wins. They need wins where they simply outslug their opponents.
To do that, they need Cano to start hitting and they need A-Rod and Posada to get healthy. Also, as much as I dislike talking about intangibles, they need the confidence that they can win even when they’re down.
If you don’t think you can come back against Tampa Bay’s bullpen, then when do you think you can make a comeback?
Update: Just went to noMaas.org, and I see they also titled their post today “The comeback kids.” This was not intentional on my part.